After more than two decades, the ancient Egyptian royal mummies and their painted coffins will soon leave their current display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a new and permanent exhibition in the Mummies Hall at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) overlooking the Ain Al-Sira Lake in the heart of Egypt’s first Islamic capital Fustat.
The Mummies Hall will not be the only one to be opened soon, as the NMEC’s Core or Central Hall will also be opened to display a variety of artefacts relating the history of Egypt from prehistoric times to the modern period.
Preparation work is at full swing in both halls, and workers are everywhere putting the final touches. The showcases and audio-visual screens that will show documentaries relating to the history and discovery of each exhibited object have been installed in their places.
The Mummies Hall is designed to look like the royal tombs in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings. It has a slope leading up to it where visitors will find themselves face-to-face with the royal mummies in a dimly lighted hall painted black.
“The NMEC’s exhibition committee selected black as the colour of the Mummies Hall in order not to disturb visitors during their tour inside and make the mummies the protagonists of the exhibition,” Mahmoud Mabrouk, Ministry of Antiquities adviser for exhibition scenarios, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He said the mummies would not be exhibited like they were in Tahrir Square, but that a new display would be created to acquaint visitors with the mummification process and its importance to the ancient Egyptians.
This would include panels about the first and second cachette of mummies, along with photographs of the pharaoh Amenhotep II’s tomb (KV 35), the hiding place where the second group of royal mummies was uncovered. Other objects would be shown, such as linen shreds decorated with an image of the ancient Egyptian god of mummification Osiris.
The history of each king and queen would be on show beside his or her mummy, as well as the results of DNA tests, the diseases the mummy had suffered from during life, as well as the lineage and members of the family.
Sabah Abdel-Razak, director of the Egyptian Museum, told the Weekly that 22 royal mummies and 17 royal sarcophagi from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties would be transported to the NMEC, among them 18 mummies of kings and four mummies of queens.
Among them are kings Ramses II, Seti I, Seqnenre, Tuthmoses III and Ramses III, the founder of the funerary temple of Madinet Habu on Luxor’s west bank, and queens Hatshepsut, Meritamun, wife of king Amenhotep I, and Nefertari, wife of king Ahmose and Ramses II, known as the last of the important Ramesside pharaohs.
The latter succeeded in repelling the invasions of the “sea people” during his long reign that lasted from 1185 to 1152 BCE. Another mummy belongs to his son, Ramses IV, whose reign was dissimilar to that of his father in every way.
While Egypt under Ramses III was marked by its stability, Ramses IV’s reign witnessed weak government under constant threat from internal rebels, dropping a sorry curtain on the glorious Ramesside period in Egypt and providing an opportunity for the rise of a new royal priesthood.
It was Ramses IX who finally handed over his authority when his daughter Nejmet married Hrihor, the high priest of Amun. This opened the way to the 21st Dynasty of priest-kings and the Third Intermediate Period.
One mummy in the collection, that of Nesikhonsu, wears a splendid wig, and some mummies still hold their air of majesty despite the passage of millennia. The mummy of queen Maatkare has stirred the curiosity of experts from the moment of its discovery as it was accompanied by another small mummy.
Experts believed that this was that of a baby, but examination revealed that it was the mummy of a small baboon which was apparently the queen’s beloved pet. The most beautiful mummy is that of prince Djedptahiufankh, which is in a state of perfect preservation. It differs from the others in that the prince had no importance in history, but his mummy was found wearing seven gold rings on his hands and another two on his left foot.
The mummies exhibited are among those discovered in 1881 in the first mummy cachette at Deir Al-Bahari on Luxor’s west bank and in 1898 in the second cachette in then pharaoh Amenhotep II’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Both cachettes included the mummies of famous kings of the New Kingdom, including Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep III, and the last warrior pharaoh Ramses II, as well as mummies of well-known queens and high priests of Amun.
In the Core of the NMEC, also soon to be opened, Mabrouk said the history of Egypt would be shown through objects from different periods, also showing the links between these eras. Religious faith and its impacts on architecture and the arts would be highlighted, he said.
Among the objects on show are a black granite statue of king Amenemhat III in the shape of a sphinx, a small statue of a sphinx discovered in the Kom Ombo Temple, and a statue of king Tuthmosis III unearthed in Luxor. A collection of clothes, pots, jewellery and other objects will also be on show.
Ahmed Al-Sherbini, supervisor of the NMEC, said the Museum covered 135,000 square metres. It is located overlooking the Ain Al-Sira Lake close to the religious compound where the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque is located, neighbouring the Hanging Church and the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
The first phase of the development of the museum has been completed, including the reception area, store galleries, restoration labs and administration areas, as well as the parking areas and the temporary exhibition hall inaugurated in 2017 by former UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova.
The hall puts on show objects that relate the history and development of Egyptian crafts through the ages. The museum’s glass pyramid-shaped roof will display a multimedia show on the different Egyptian civilisations.
The second phase of the museum has also been completed, including the electricity, security and fire-fighting systems, as well as the interior design of the reception area and architectural work on the glass pyramid.
The third phase is almost finished, including the exhibition halls. The central exhibition hall has a surface area of 2,570 m2, the royal mummies hall has a surface area of 2,810 m2, and the Core has a surface area of 910 m2.
The museum also includes a theatre, cinema, lecture hall, conference hall and a collection of shops and restaurants overlooking the lake.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.